Paleoecological Reconstruction of the Holocene Fire Regime at Mud Lake, Eastern Ontario, near St. Lawrence Islands National Park
Ellwood, Suzanne Margaret
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Wildfire is an ecological disturbance that plays an important role in ecosystem function and interacts with climate and vegetation, relationships that may be altered by ongoing climate change. Insights from paleoecology can provide context for environmental change, including the natural range of variability. Here, the Holocene fire history of a small watershed in eastern Ontario, Canada is reconstructed. A high-resolution macroscopic charcoal series was derived from the lacustrine sediment of Mud Lake, north of Gananoque, Ontario and within the Frontenac Arch. Analysis of the charcoal record estimates a mean fire-return-interval (FRI) of 175 yr/fire around Mud Lake during the Holocene, and similar mean FRIs during different time periods indicates that it has been a largely stationary fire regime. The analysis suggests that fire activity may have recently increased, but a lack of documentary fire records for the area leaves this uncertain. There is no indication that humans have significantly impacted the fire regime, though anthropogenic ignition could have played a role in the area’s recent fires. The fire regime around Mud Lake does not appear to have shifted in association with major changes in regional vegetation. Fire activity does correlate with some paleoclimate trends. The estimated fire frequency decreased around 7500 yr BP, when wetter summers became more common in eastern Canada, and a recent increase in fire frequency would parallel with more frequent incursions of dry and cool air masses into the region. During other parts of the record, however, the fire activity does not appear to reflect the major climate impacts. The fire history of Mud Lake is relevant to the ecological management of eastern Ontario’s St. Lawrence Islands National Park and its restoration of a rare, fire-dependent tree species, the pitch pine. Though predictions vary, this area’s climate may become more favorable to fire through an increase in temperature and a decrease in summer precipitation. By providing information about the natural variability of fire activity in eastern Ontario, this research can be applied towards setting appropriate management goals during future environmental change.